Editor's note: Mike Masterson is taking the day off. The original version of this column ran Dec. 31, 2013.
Those who follow these opinions already understand I'm prone to lift off on a subject that relates to each of us whether we live in Smackover, Camden or Pea Ridge. And when it comes to the matter of expressing genuine yet fundamental appreciation for everything others do for us, I've yet another observation to share.
I've come to believe that a lack of appreciation lies at the heart of so many problems. Failing to appreciate the gestures others make to enhance or improve others' lives, or simply prompt a smile, falls second only to a lack of respect in causing hard feelings between people.
Think about it. How many times have you gone out of your way to help another, or make their life a bit better or easier, only to be met with a jaw-dropping lack of appreciation? Not that you extended yourself with appreciation in mind; still, that's how things went.
In this atmosphere of entitlement we've helped create, we've too often conditioned those around us to expect, rather than appreciate, what is given.
Sadly enough, this failure becomes evident at Christmas when expectations are inflated and the entitlement scourge eagerly rears its ugly head in the most apparent ways. Do our children truly appreciate piles of gifts, or feel they somehow deserve those and so much more?
I'm sure I've been guilty of causing offense by failing to extend appropriate appreciation for everything from meals I've enjoyed to invitations to gatherings, to gifts and simply the time and energies another invested in my well-being. How about you, my friends?
One mother and grandmother I know has gone out of her way for years to send gifts and cards and little messages of genuine affection to her grown children, most of whom never bothered to respond.
Still, she continued expressing affection toward them because her concern and caring were rooted deep inside her rather than any expectation of love returned, or even a response. She kept offering her heart until finally wearing down from years of the silence and painfully clear lack of appreciation.
Even the most caring person can only endure so much before surrendering to the silence.
How many times have you felt unappreciated when a card or a simple telephone call of appreciation didn't arrive as you'd hoped? I suspect the majority of us can relate to such self-centeredness.
I also find myself wondering just what form of cold sliver is wedged inside that makes so many of us supposedly higher-functioning animals fail to properly appreciate everything about our existence, including each other, each healthy breath and so many beautiful sights and sounds.
I once challenged students to admit how many times they'd desperately desired an object only to quickly devalue that thing soon after they acquired it. Every last 18-year-old sheepishly raised hands in confession.
Examples of our abundant lack of appreciation are everywhere. A hardworking single mother I know raised two children to adulthood under difficult circumstances. She always put their needs above her own because that's just what most mothers do. Yet now that her children are grown and ostensibly capable of greater understanding and empathy, they display little compassion or appreciation for all their mother endured. You'd think they would have heightened understanding and gratitude for what she overcame for their well-being.
One writer wisely explained that an attitude of gratitude always lifts one's altitude. So much wisdom contained in eight words.
I also read this summary from an unknown author: "Every human has a secret craving for appreciation, which has the capability of bringing a sea change in a person in just one day. It's beneficial for both the persons because a person who is appreciated will enjoy it and make efforts to further hone the skills while the one expressing appreciation acquires the satisfaction of doing a great job of appreciating. Appreciation must be done without the expectation of anything in return, which draws the thin line between appreciation and flattery. When you imagine a situation where you don't have a particular thing, you tend to appreciate the value of that particular thing. Hence, appreciation is necessary to keep our spirits high and also boost the spirits of others around you."
With the new year at hand, it seems the appropriate time for each of us to dedicate ourselves to express appreciation to others who've extended themselves for us. It's just not that difficult to simply communicate the words, "I sincerely appreciate you and all you've contributed to my own life and well-being."
What do any of us have to lose ... well, except perhaps a touch of irrelevant ego and pride? Strikes me we surely know by now where each of those traits invariably lead us.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.